Nutritional status of flexitarians compared to vegans and omnivores - a cross-sectional pilot study

authored by
Anja Bruns, Josefine Nebl, Wiebke Jonas, Andreas Hahn, Jan Philipp Schuchardt

BACKGROUND: In the Western world, there has been a notable rise in the popularity of plant-based, meat-reduced flexitarian diets. Nevertheless, there is insufficient data on the nutritional status of individuals following this dietary pattern. The aim of this study was to investigate the intake and endogenous status of various nutrients in a healthy German adult study population consisting of flexitarians (FXs), vegans (Vs) and omnivores (OMNs).

METHODS: In this cross-sectional study, dietary intake of 94 non-smoking adults (32 FXs, 33 Vs, 29 OMNs) between 25 and 45 years of age was assessed using 3-day dietary records. In addition, blood samples were collected to determine different endogenous nutrient status markers.

RESULTS: 32%, 82% and 24% of the FXs, Vs, and OMNs respectively reported using dietary supplements. In the FXs, intake of total energy as well as macronutrients and most micronutrients were within the reference range. FXs had higher intakes of fiber, retinol-equ., ascorbic acid, folate-equ., tocopherol-equ., calcium, and magnesium compared to OMNs. However, cobalamin intake in FXs (2.12 µg/d) was below the reference (4 µg/d). Based on 4cB12, 13% of FXs showed a cobalamin undersupply [< -0.5 to -2.5] compared to 10% of OMNs, and 9% of Vs. The median 25(OH)D serum concentrations in FXs, Vs and OMNs were 46.6, 55.6, and 59.6 nmol/L. The prevalence of an insufficient/deficient vitamin-D status [< 49.9 nmol 25(OH)D/L] was highest in FXs (53%), followed by Vs (34%) and OMNs (27%). In FXs and Vs, the supplement takers had better cobalamin and vitamin-D status than non-supplement takers. Anemia and depleted iron stores were found only occasionally in all groups. In women, the prevalence of pre-latent iron deficiency and iron deficiency was highest in FXs (67%) compared to Vs (61%) and OMNs (54%).

CONCLUSION: Our findings indicated that all three diets delivered sufficient amounts of most macro- and micronutrients. However, deficiencies in cobalamin, vitamin-D, and iron status were common across all diets. Further studies are needed to investigate the nutrient supply status and health consequences of meat-reduced plant-based diets. The study was registered in the German Clinical Trial Register (number: DRKS 00019887, data: 08.01.2020).

Institute of Food Science and Human Nutrition
Nutrition Physiology and Human Nutrition Section
BMC nutrition
Publication date
Publication status
Peer reviewed
ASJC Scopus subject areas
Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health, Nutrition and Dietetics, Medicine (miscellaneous), Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
Sustainable Development Goals
SDG 3 - Good Health and Well-being
Electronic version(s) (Access: Open)